Miles Kington: The Coliseum crisis: an opera inside an opera

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"Opera librettists casting around for a subject could do worse than direct their attentions to the recent events at English National Opera," wrote Philip Hensher in Monday's Guardian. What an extraordinary coincidence! I have been working for months on an opera based on the never-ending crisis story at the Coliseum, to be called (provisionally) King Eno and the Barbarians, which tells the story of how the people of the country of Anglitania rebelled against being made to listen to opera in foreign languages.

Their painful dilemma is spelt out in the opening chorus in which the people surge into the open square at Covent Garden and sing as follows:-

"We like opera, though we don't like art.
We only go to opera because it's smart.
Spend all day putting on smart clothes
Spend all evening in a doze!
Sit like dummies, nodding our head,
'Cos we can't understand a word that's said!
Can't understand a word that's sung
- It's always in a foreign tongue!"

At which point their leader steps forward and sings:-

"But we always know what language it's in
- They all make a different kind of din!
Italian is nice and light and airy,
Russian is painful, German is scary.
French is so frothy, it seems to vanish,
And nobody writes any opera in Spanish."

The chorus wrap up their feelings by surging round him and singing:-

"We could buy the programme and read the score,
But that is not what opera's for.
Opera is so you can say you've been.
Opera is seeing and being seen.
Opera's difficult, opera's deep,
Opera's a chance to catch up on sleep."

As opera people do not seem to have the faintest idea what they really want, there is some relief when young Prince Eno takes over their leadership and marches them off to his own palace, the Coliseum, where he allows them to listen to opera in their own language at last, even though it turns out to be no more comprehensible than listening to it in a foreign language.

There is then some rather complicated sub-plotting in which Prince Eno falls in love with successive directors of the Coliseum, gets tired of them all and fires them one by one. The general reaction to this is expressed by the one comic figure in the opera, Lebrecht, a cantankerous dwarf, who has this to sing:-

"Oh, dear, oh dear, here we go again,
Pouring money down the drain.
Hiring people who can't do the job,
Throwing good people to the mob.
Firing singers to make ends meet,
Or so that Martin Smith can eat.
Well, men may come and men may go,
And I will always say: 'Told you so!' "

While Lebrecht is still on stage, Prince Eno himself enters and addresses him.

Eno: And who might you be, little one?

Lebrecht: I am a caviller.

Eno: Cavalier, eh? You don't look like one.

Lebrecht: Not cavalier, you blockhead! Caviller! I cavil. That is my role. When people get things wrong, I complain.

Eno: And if they should get them right?

Lebrecht: I still cavil. But they never do get them right.

Eno: Do you not think the Coliseum is now in good hands?

Lebrecht: Frankly, sire, I think you have forgotten how to attract the punter.

At this moment a punter enters and sings:-

"Came from Bradford this morning,
To London for two nights,
Thought I'd see the scenery,
Thought I'd do the sights.
Came to the Coliseum
For the Tears of Petra Kant.
Oh what a load of bollocks!
What a tuneless lesbian rant!"

Well, that gives just a taste of the work. If anyone wishes to pour money into the completion of this opera, and make a fortune, he need only get in touch with me.

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